For every superhero running arund town, each probably has their own fancy method of travel. DC’s Batman has his Batmobile, Wonder Woman has her invisible jet, and Marvel’s Punisher has his van, amongst others. Unless they can fly or have super speed, superheroes need a secure way to get around that is all their own. Secret government agencies in superhero stories have a whole host of toys to play with though, and that’s especially true of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.).
If you’ve seen any of the movies that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for that matter, you know that the organization has a host of men and women in suits and combat gear with logos stamped on their planes, their cars, and their motorcycles. Since S.H.I.E.L.D. was first revealed in the comics in 1965 though, they’ve had one very special mode of transportation: the helicarrier.
15. S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarriers Debuted in 1965
Just like the organization for whom the helicarrier was designed, the flying fortress made its debut in Marvel comics in Strange Tales #135. The comic book contained several stories and one of them introduced the spy organization as Nick Fury was brought into the fold. When the helicarrier graced comic book pages for the first time, it was the flying headquarters for S.H.I.E.L.D., which then stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law Enforcement Division. It’s gone through a few changes since.
S.H.I.E.L.D. and its helicarriers were the brainchild of comic book heavyweights Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Lee was inspired by the television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at the time. Nick Fury was written as the leader of the organization, a popular character from Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos. Tony Stark, meanwhile, was in charge of weapons development for the organization, though that wasn’t the only thing he was in charge of…
14. Three Superheroes Designed the Helicarrier
Not only did Iron Man himself have a hand in designing the helicarrier, but so did Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four) and the former X-Men member Forge. The three collaborated on the science and engineering aspects to bring the first helicarrier to life, though none of that is revealed until much farther along in the comics. After all, Forge didn’t even make his comic book debut until nearly two decades after the appearance of the first helicarrier.
The idea, according to Marvel comic book lore, was really Tony Stark’s. There was a fear that any nation that hosted the base of operations for S.H.I.E.L.D. would be subject to attacks by their enemies, like Hydra. In order to keep civilians safe, Tony proposed making the base mobile and airborne so that no one nation would need to claim S.H.I.E.L.D. Once he came up with the idea, Reed and Forge helped him create a plan, and Stark Industries built the first helicarrier. It’s Tony Stark who has been the one designing it on the comic book pages in the decades since.
13. The Helicarrier is S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ
If the extent of your familiarity with the helicarrier is from seeing it soaring across the skies in Avengers or Avengers: Age of Ultron, you might be surprised to find that in the comics, it’s actually the main headquarters for S.H.I.E.L.D., not Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Though S.H.I.E.L.D. has many bases around the world, it’s the Helicarrier that outranks them all.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that isn’t the case. The helicarrier acted as a mobile command center for specific operations, but HQ was housed in the Triskelion, a location fans saw crumble in a Hydra attack in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but that can be seen within the Framework in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fourth season. Another difference between the MCU and the comic book page? The MCU typically only has one helicarrier up and running at a time, but depending on the director in the comics, several might be stationed all over the world, just like the S.H.I.E.L.D. bases.
12. Tony Stark Created an Iron Man Helicarrier
Once upon a comic book time, Tony Stark was acting director of S.H.I.E.L.D. That meant he wasn’t passing off designs to someone else for the okay. Never passing up an opportunity to remind people just who was in charge, he redesigned a helicarrier in his own image, so to speak. Instead of the typical steel and chrome look, he made sure the helicarrier that was operational under his direction was of the same red and gold color scheme as his Iron Man suit.
Of course, that particular helicarrier didn’t exactly last long. The Red Hulk was able to bring it down during a conflict in Hulk Vol. 2, and the remains of the helicarrier were then taken over by another group known as the Intelligencia. This group was bent on world domination (as many supervillain groups are), but they aimed to do it by making sure the smartest minds in the world were the ones taken out first. They targeted the likes of Reed Richards, Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, T’Challa, and Hank McCoy.
11. More Than 20 Helicarriers Have Been Built
Considering that helicarriers have existed in the comics for more than 40 years, it’s probably not a big surprise that there have been multiple versions of them over the years. Since the very first one, there have been at least 20 different versions created across the different comic book universes. Some of them have some very special skills.
When Godzilla was spotted off the coast of Alaska in the Marvel-616 main continuity line, the Behemoth was the helicarrier dispatched to deal with him. The helicarrier only appeared in the comics for roughly two years in the late ’70s, as the likes of Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones represented S.H.I.E.L.D. in the fight against the legendary kaiju. The Pericles V was actually infiltrated by vampires in one comic book storyline, and Blade, who is a sometimes agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., was forced to destroy it.
Not all of the helicarriers have been named over the years, and there doesn’t appear to be any particular method to naming them. Someare named for heroes in Greek myths, others are named for actual people, and some are just named for fun, like Tony Stark’s “Helicarrier Gold.”
10. Hank Pym Designed an Entire Fleet
Unlike the regular 616 universe, the Ultimates Universe doesn’t just use one or two helicarriers at a time to house S.H.I.E.L.D. forces. In that particular universe, it was Hank Pym who was responsible for their design and implementation, and he went for a bolder move, creating an entire fleet of helicarriers. Of course, even though he designed them, the engines that actually allow them vertical flight still came from the mind of Tony Stark, and the same engines were even adapted by the Ultimates version of the Fantastic Four for use in a space shuttle.
The main difference here though is that the helicarriers in this universe don’t serve as S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. Like the cinematic universe, that honor belongs to the Triskellion. They are also significantly smaller than the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers that comic book readers are used to, looking more like traditional aircraft carriers. The New Ultimates do end up using one for their base of operations temporarily, though.
9. Helicarriers Debuted in Live Action in Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Avengers wasn’t the first time a helicarrier came to life in live-action. Back before the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuted with Iron Man, there was a little made-for-TV movie in 1998 that showcased Marvel’s favorite spy agency. Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t exactly a cinematic masterpiece, but if you’re a fan of comic book movies, it’s definitely one worth checking out.
David Hasselhoff starred as the title character, complete with the eye patch, playing the older version of Nick Fury that existed in the comics. The character has since been redesigned for the Ultimates comic book universe with inspiration from Samuel L. Jackson, which is how the idea of becoming part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe even caught the actor’s eye. The helicarrier that Nick Fury operated here looked like a ship on top of some sort of massive, stone structure with enormous jet engines. The technology wasn’t quite as fancy as the helicarriers seen in the MCU now, but it definitely looked like something found in the comics in the late ‘60s and ‘70s.
8. The Secret Avengers Love The Iliad
The Iliad is a Greek myth which recounts the fight between Achilles and Hector as the Greek gods all take sides in the war between Troy and Athens. It’s a tragedy that results in whole groups of mortals slaughtered and much infighting and betrayal amongst the immortal gods. What does this have to do with S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers? The Iliad is also the name given to one of the helicarriers in the comics, the one favored by the Secret Avengers.
The Secret Avengers are a group of heroes and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that operate, as their name suggests, in secret. They take on covert missions that no one else is supposed to know about — sometimes against their own people. If discovered on a mission, they aren’t even allowed to admit that they’re working for S.H.I.E.L.D. Captain America, Sharon Carter, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Phil Coulson, and more have been members of the team over the years. In the 2010 comic series, the Iliad was revealed as their headquarters. The same helicarrier is one of the few to get a mention on the television series in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season three, and it even appears in the 2015 S.H.I.E.L.D. comic book series featuring characters that were originally created for the show.
7. At Least Five Helicarriers Have Been Wrecked
Just how many helicarriers are in operation at any given time is a closely guarded secret — even to Marvel comic book readers. With so many missions resulting in the helicarrier in use being taken over by an enemy or compromised in a firefight, it would seem that many have been lost. More accurately, at least five have wrecked rather than simply being shut down or decommissioned on the comic book page.
This particular S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence comes courtesy of Livewires, a series that launched in 2005. The Livewires were a group of androids built to carry out black-ops missions. In one issue of their short-lived series, the group had enough information to verify that at least five helicarriers had crashed, but two were in the same place. Two of those five had wreckage just off the coast of New York, and the Livewires were seeking out the wreckage of one of them at the time. Considering just how many comic book events occur in the state of New York, that’s probably not a huge surprise. Daredevil, the X-Men, Spider-Man, and a whole host of other heroes make their homes in New York, so there’s always something going on.
Of course, since that estimate was in a 2005 comic book, the number has likely risen since then. There have even been new helicarriers commissioned since then, including the previously mentioned Iliad.
6. A Helicarrier Shelters Humans From Zombies
As any good publisher or studio knows, there are always certain trends that catch on with an audience in a big way. Over the last decade, there’s been a resurgence in the popularity of zombie movies and comics in the sci-fi genre. Marvel didn’t skip out on that particular apocalyptic future, either. In their version of a zombie tale, it wasn’t average humans the stories centered on like in The Walking Dead, but the costumed superheroes. In most cases, the heroes, like the Avengers, were turned into zombies and no longer able to save the world after Magento attempted to “thin out” humans and allow mutants to be the dominant group on the planet. His plan backfired when a zombie virus was unleashed.
In Marvel Zombies: Dead Days, readers got a taste of just what kind of danger humanity was in when the pages opened with Spider-Man having suffered a zombie bite and returning home to attack Mary Jane and Aunt May. Nick Fury gathered all of the heroes who weren’t infected in the one place he thought zombies couldn’t reach them — a helicarrier — in hopes of finding a way to save the world. Unfortunately for humanity, this helicarrier didn’t turn out to be much of a safe haven as Reed Richards decided the zombie virus might actually be the next step in human evolution and infected his entire team, leading them to attack the heroes housed inside.
5. Most Helicarriers Are Not Submersible
With helicarriers being created in the comics to fly high above the conflict going on below, it’s probably not surprising that they don’t have the same functions as, say, submarines. Considering they can be navigated like a boat, though, it’s understandable that Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) gets confused in The Avengers the first time he steps onto the flight deck of one. In the comics at least, there are the rare helicarriers that can maneuver under the sea.
The first to really get the spotlight is the Hercules in the 2013 Wolverine series. In it, Wolverine had left the X-Men behind and accepted an invitation to join S.H.I.E.L.D. It only takes five issues for him to realize that many S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are being mind controlled, though, and he’s in for one heck of a fight. That brawl takes place while the Hercules is under water. Nick Fury himself informs Wolverine that the design for the helicarrier is from a time when S.H.I.E.L.D. was worried about the possibility of having to defend the world against hostilities in Atlantis, somewhere we haven’t seen in the MCU just yet.
4. The First MCU Helicarrier Makes A Return
Audiences might not have had the chance to see the helicarrier from Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. again, but those watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe come to life were treated to a return of Helicarrier 64 on more than one occasion. Even though it appeared that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s helicarriers — including the ones that were supposed to be a part of the new Project Insight in Captain America: The Winter Soldier — were destroyed as Hydra rose up, there was at least one that was retrieved for safe keeping.
In the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the team becomes suspicious of Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) as he makes trips all over the world, lies about them, and continues to spend the reserves of S.H.I.E.L.D. money on things like 1,000 bunk beds. While some think his secrets are putting the organization at risk, it turns out he’s actually doing a bit of side work for the organization. He’s implementing Theta Protocol, the repair (and improvement) of a helicarrier for use by the Avengers, even though they don’t yet know that S.H.I.E.L.D. still exists. Theta Protocol comes to the rescue in Avengers: Age of Ultron, as the same helicarrier that first saw the Avengers team up helps them save as many people in Sokovia as they can — even if they still don’t know that S.H.I.E.L.D. is back up and running at that point.
3. Cloaking Technology Is A Must
Within the MCU, S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers were the only vehicles in operation by the spy organization that utilized both cloaking against radar technology and additional “invisibility” measures. Helicarriers are outfitted with reflective panels, and at certain elevations, they’re invisible to the naked human eye. That reflective technology was used in other S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicles, but not cloaking, which is a must for a vehicle as massive as a helicarrier to avoid detection from rival agencies or bad guys.
Audience members will notice in early Marvel movies and in the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that none of the smaller aircraft, like the quinjets or the Bus, were invisible to radar, though. Instead, cloaking technology was something the agency implemented in season two, after the Hydra uprising, when they were no longer a legitimate organization. To stay in the shadows, S.H.I.E.L.D. needed the cloaking technology that either Hydra or the military had added to the vehicles after they were confiscated during the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., which prompted Coulson to authorize stealing a quinjet with cloaking technology in the season two premiere.
2. Ultimate Spider-Man Gets An Upgraded Carrier
The comics and the live-action projects aren’t the only places you can spot a helicarrier, of course. The Ultimate Spider-Man animated series also featured a helicarrier for a time. That helicarrier was the mobile HQ for S.H.I.E.L.D. as well, but it met a rather explosive end when it was destroyed by the Green Goblin. As a result S.H.I.E.L.D. had to come up with a new mobile command center, and they gave the idea of a helicarrier a serious upgrade.
Replacing the helicarrier as a mobile command center is the tricarrier, so named because it can actually split into three different vehicles depending on the mission. The astrocarrier can actually head into space for more extraterrestrial missions, the aquacarrier allows for underwater travel, and the stratocarrier is more like the traditional S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, providing the main hub for the team and sticking to the sky. The aircraft has also been seen on the animated series Avengers: Assemble, so maybe a version will one day be seen on the page or the big screen.
1. Deadpool’s Big Fight Is In Helicarrier Wreckage
Despite not existing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Deadpool movie had plenty of winks and nods to the other side of Marvel, like the assertion that Nick Fury and his eyepatch wouldn’t be showing up in a post-credit scene. In addition to those more overt Easter eggs, though, there’s another that those involved in the production won’t admit is an Easter egg at all: the presence of a helicarrier.
The big climax of the film involves Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) being kidnapped. The location where the fight to save her takes place is in the wreckage of an industrial area. At first glance, it looks like it could simply be the wreckage of a large navy vessel, but as pieces of the rusting structure are torn apart during the course of the fight, there are propulsion engines that look exactly like the ones found on the helicarrier in The Avengers.
Production rights being split amongst different studios for Marvel properties means that S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t be used by anyone other than Marvel Studios. With the helicarrier being the S.H.I.E.L.D. setting of choice, FOX would probably be in hot water if they openly admitted there was a helicarrier without okaying it with Marvel first, so they’ll continue saying it’s just a ship, and fans will continue saying it’s really a helicarrier.
Did you learn something new about the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier? Do you know of any other fun facts that we left out? Let us know in the comments!